Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come (Romans 5:12-14).
Paul has just shown how Christ’s death brings us peace with God through reconciliation. Now he sketches details of how Christ restores what was lost when Adam sinned.
Sin in Eden brought death into the world. Death “reigned” (5:14, 17) even before the law given to Moses specifically condemned it. The sin that leads to death has continued to ensnare all people ever since. Paul describes here both the sin of human choice and the natural bent to sinning (original sin) found in every human born since Adam (i.e., sin was present even before there was a formal law to break; cf. vv. 13, 18–19). Adam was a “type” of Christ in that his act would have wide-ranging consequences for the whole world, just as Jesus’ life (and death) would have.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:15-21).
Every human being is either in Adam or in Christ. We are all born in Adam, but God by his grace brings many into Christ. Whereas Adam’s trespass led to death and woe, God’s grace abounds through the free gift offered “by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ” (v. 15). The word “grace” occurs 21 times in Romans—six times in Romans 5 alone. This chapter marks a high point of Romans’ teaching about grace. By God’s grace, the “free gift of righteousness” can be dominant in our lives (v. 17). Condemnation for “all men” because of Adam is universal, but the availability of “justification and life for all men” (v. 18) does not mean universal salvation, as the next verse makes clear. It is by grace—received through faith—that Christ’s obedience makes righteous “the many” (not “all”; v. 19). In the end, grace reigns over and among God’s people through the righteousness Christ won (v. 21). The result is eternal life through him—the strongest possible reversal of all the ills that came about through Adam.
Adapted from the Gospel Transformation Bible